Music Review: Niagara Concert ‘83

Eiichi Ohtaki (1948-2013) was a towering musical figure in post-WWII Japanese music.  At the time of this concert, Ohtaki was riding the momentum of A Long Vacation (1981) and preparing for his subsequent successful 1984 follow-up Each Time. In this period between his two most popular releases, he also recorded two albums consisting entirely of orchestrated renditions of his compositions under the name the Niagara Fall of Sound Orchestral. While these instrumental albums, Niagara Song Book & Niagara Song Book 2, are good as airplane boarding music, they are not great because their overall production comes across as a little too clinical, which is generally not typical of Ohtaki’s dynamic studio recordings. Things are rectified in the live setting as this album features both the Niagara Fall of Sound Orchestral and Eiichi Ohtaki himself. Both musical acts were accompanied by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra for this concert.

The live version of the Niagara Fall of Sound Orchestral transverses somewhere in the vicinity of the Beach Boys’ lush instrumentals and Song Cycle by Van Dyke Parks. “Water Color” in particular sounds like the Pet Sounds instrumental “Let’s Go Away for Awhile,” converging with some soft-focus lounge pop found on a ‘60s film score. These instrumental songs come across as fully dimensional as the stellar recording captures the music moving through the open air of Seibu Lions Stadium on a joyous July night almost 40 years ago. Ohtaki then steps to the forefront to offer “Detective Story” from A Long Vacation which could be described as the Zombies’ “Leave Me Be” meets “Hurt So Bad” by Little Anthony and the Imperials suffused with Bacharachian elegance.  The abundant and sweeping “Wall of Sound” melodies of “You Are a Natural Color/Kimiwa Tennenshoku” cascade down from the musical heavens as the concert reaches its pinnacle. Ohtaki’s signature number offers melodies that will keep swirling in your head for a week. As a consummate musician with excellent intonation, Ohtaki performs all these songs with apparent ease on what would be his final live performance.

Ohtaki’s small musical enterprise has gone on to become an entire City Pop empire in Japan. By integrating some of the best aspects of Eastern and Western music, he settled on an integral sound all his own. His recordings would go on to inspire a wide array of subsequent sounds ranging from ‘90s cosmopolitan pop both in the UK (Stereolab, High Llamas) and Japan (Pizzcato Five and Cornelius) to contemporary Japanese groups and musicians (the Pen Friend Club, Jintana & Emeralds).  Ohtaki’s music will sweep you into another world - suspended between the past and a someday that actually comes to fruition.  

Niagara Concert ‘83 on Freegal

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